- The Washington Times - Friday, November 2, 2007

RICHMOND (AP) — The first 24 days of October brought in $12.6 million for candidates in the General Assembly election Tuesday, half of it from checks of $10,000 or more, according to recent financial reports on the races.

The races became the most expensive in Virginia General Assembly history when spending passed the $55 million mark in October, in part because of an unprecedented infusion of five- and six-figure checks as Democrats try to take control of both chambers.

From September through Wednesday, at least nine checks of $100,000 or more went to legislative candidates, according to data from State Board of Elections filings compiled by the Virginia Public Access Project.

The checks came from political action committees and wealthy residents to the most competitive races, particularly for the Senate, where Democrats would hold a majority for the first time since 1995. They need to take four or more seats from Republicans.

From Oct. 1 through Oct. 24, the latest state reporting period, legislative candidates received 4,718 checks of $250 or less. They amounted to $732,407, or less than 6 percent of contributions reported over the period.

“We see this in the final days of campaigns where candidates are not trying to raise money from a host of people,” said Robert D. Holsworth, a political science professor and a dean at Virginia Commonwealth University. “They try to get the biggest bang that they can for the time that they have.”

Unlike races for federal offices, which have contribution limits, Virginia election laws allow residents, corporations, nonprofit institutions and political parties to give as much as they wish, provided every contribution worth $100 or more is itemized.

The largest of the big, late donations is a $250,000 check the political action committee for Rep. Thomas M. Davis III, Virginia Republican, wrote Tuesday to the campaign of his wife, state Sen. Jeannemarie Devolites Davis, a Republican battling for re-election against Democrat J. Chapman “Chap” Petersen in a Democrat-leaning Northern Virginia district.

Partisan political action committees frequently write the most big checks, according to an analysis of data compiled by VPAP, a nonprofit and nonpartisan tracker of money in state politics.

The state Democratic Party has written 77 checks this year of $10,000 or more totaling more than $1.4 million. Gov. Tim Kaine’s Moving Virginia Forward PAC has written 37 such checks worth $1.2 million.

Among individual donors, nobody matches the nearly $536,000 that David K. Rensin, of Leesburg, has given this year to Republican House and Senate candidates. It includes a $160,000 check to Senate candidate Jill Holtzman Vogel, a Republican running for the seat of retiring Sen. H. Russell Potts Jr., Winchester Republican.

Mr. Rensin, 35, is president and chief executive officer of the Herndon-based software producer Reality Mobile.

He said part-time legislative lawmakers should not have to raise more than $1 million for a candidacy.

“It is appalling,” he said.

Candidates raising $1 million or more for a legislative race was unheard of until the 21st century.

“We keep saying, ‘Well, this can’t go on much longer like this,’ but it can,” Mr. Holsworth said. “Now, all of a sudden, a $1 million legislative race is common. It’s almost like $1 million is a test of whether you’re a serious candidate.”

The political and ideological stakes are higher than they’ve been in years, particularly in the Senate races. Democrats want a majority in the 40-member Senate so they can help redraw voting districts.

Conservatives are giving money to campaigns because they want to protect the Republican Party’s advantage. Mr. Rensin is concerned about organized labor’s efforts for Democrats this year. He sees that and a Democratic takeover as a threat to Virginia’s standing as a “right-to-work” state.

However, Democratic candidates have benefited more than Republican candidates from $10,000 checks this year. Nearly 300 checks worth nearly $6.7 million have gone to Democrats as of Oct. 24. Republicans received 245 checks worth $10,000 or more, totaling about $5.7 million.

Democrats also hold an edge in small contributions this year. Democrats have received $2.3 million from 14,798 checks of $250 or less, while Republican candidates received $1.8 million from 11,104 comparably sized checks.

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